How Metals Might Be Used More Sustainably In The Future

Metal is one particular resource that has potential for resource scarcity or supply issues into the future.

In this guide, we look at the ways we might be able to use metals more sustainably into the future, where reserves & metal supply might be a concern.


Overall – What Is The Sustainable Use Of Metals?

Metals are usually obtained via mining ores out of the ground which we then extract virgin metals from.

Instead, we want to make better and more efficient use of the metal resources we already have (instead of continually mining new ones).

This is the essence of making sustainable use of metal resources.

We might do this via:

Reducing, re-using and repairing

Recycling (particularly in e waste)

Using metal substitutes where possible (although, it should be noted that – of 62 metals – Twelve of those metals … have no substitute at all for their major uses, and none of the 62 … have a substitute available to cover all of their uses. So, this is a consideration)


Reduce, Re-Use & Repair Metal & Metal Products

– Reducing the use of metals is one way we might save metal resources.

We can do this by reducing the quantity of new metal products we buy, or even using metal substitutes e.g. a glass container or glass drink bottle over a metal one.


– Re-using metal products is another way to save metal resources.

We can do this for example by buying or using second hand metal.

One way to do this might be buying a second hand phone or appliance, as both of these products are known to contain metals.

We may even use a reusable metal drink bottle.


– Repairing is another way to save metal resources.

We might get a phone or tv repaired instead of throwing it out and getting a new one.

Designing products to be easier to repair (with modular designs) could be an idea for higher repair rates too.


Recycle Metals

There is still good potential left in recycling metals – particularly with e-waste, as much of it ends up in landfills (with a lot of wasted metal inside it).

There is a lot of data out there that suggests the value of that metal in e waste that is currently being dumped could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars

Some metals and products containing metals are far more effective from an eco and cost/profit perspective to recycle than others.

And, the way we recycle and the systems we have set up to recycle metals and e waste certainly need to improve.

It’s important to note that not all metals can be recycled due to chemistry, elemental makeup or thermodynamic issues.

You can read a guide about the present and future of recycling metals in this guide.


Look At Metal Substitutes & Alternatives

Throughout the past, we have found substitutes and alternatives for different metals.

Sometimes we move to different metals with a more reliable proven reserve quantity or supply, or sometimes we move to a synthetic or bio based alternative.

Moving to metals with a better resource base makes sense, but metal substitutes and alternatives are not without their own issues – such as performance issues.

Some metals and their uses simply don’t have a substitute either – so this is not always an option.


When reserves which are economically profitable to mine run low – prices for metals go up

We either move onto other metals with more reliable supplies, or find substitutes and alternatives

Performance of substitute metals can be an issue (computers will get slower, engines will be less efficient and so on)

Of the 62 metals – Twelve of those metals … have no substitute at all for their major uses, and none of the 62 … have a substitute available to cover all of their uses



Substitutes for different metals and commodities can be found in this report by the USGS 






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